Earliest case of TB found in 9,000-year-old Neolithic skeleton

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The earliest known cases of human tuberculosis have been found in millennia-old bones that were buried off the coast of Haifa, Israel.

New research by scientists from institutions including University College London (UCL) and Tel Aviv University shows that the infection is 3,000 years older than was previously imagined and that TB in people evolved before bovine TB.

Professor Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University noticed lesions that are a sign of TB in the bones of skeletons discovered at Alit-Yam, a 9,000 year-old pre-pottery Neolithic village.

Dr Helen Donoghue and Dr Mark Spigelman, of the UCL Centre for Infectious Diseases & International Health, led an international collaborative team through analysing the bones using scientific techniques to reveal DNA and cell wall lipids from mycobacterium tuberculosis, the principal agent of human TB.

Previous studies of the origins of the infection have used computer analysis to work backward by looking at the rate of change of the DNA. This time, Dr Donoghue said, "We have gone directly to 9,000 year old human bones and had a look."

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